An Interview with Kate McCord, Author of “Farewell Four Waters”

On Wednesday, I reviewed a wonderful book, Farewell Four Waters. Today, I offer you one better–an interview with the author! Friends, meet Kate McCord!

In your book, Farewell Four Waters, you explain that the story is not exactly and exclusively your own, but rather a composite of true stories that together create a very entertaining, yet truthful novel. That said, your own love for the Afghan people comes through clearly in the character of Marie. Where did that passion come from? Why Afghanistan as opposed to another country, another people, a different culture?

I was first introduced to Afghanistan on the Risk board. That’s an old board game. Later, I read Kipling and developed a whole set up perceptions and mis-perceptions about the country. In ’79, the Russians invaded and I paid a little attention. But it wasn’t until 2000 that I really started to get to know Afghanistan and the people who call that country home. In November, 2000 I picked up a book about Afghanistan at an airport in Europe. By the time I landed in the States, I was fascinated. Over the winter of 2000-2001, I read everything I could find about the country. The Taliban were in control and the stories were heartbreaking. I began praying for the people. Still, Afghans were just stories and pictures, but in 2004, I met Afghans face to face, drank their tea and shared their laughter and tears. That’s when everything changed for me. Now, I know so many precious Afghans. I’ve celebrated their births, engagements and weddings. I’ve sat beside the dying and in houses of mourning. I’ve shared life and along the way, fell in love.

Marie has many opportunities to share her Christian faith in the story. I love how she does it, unashamedly saying, “I belong to the Honorable Jesus Messiah”. Her declaration of faith always seemed to be well received. Did you ever have difficulty being honest about your faith? How did you learn to be a witness for Christ in such a hostile culture?

At first, I didn’t know what to say or how. I really struggled with that. I asked others what they said, I prayed and I tried out approaches with my Afghan friends. I looked for what made sense and was welcome. Along the way, I stumbled a lot, but Afghans are gracious and a gentle, “I’m sorry, forgive me if I offended” helped us all. Often, Afghans said those very words to me when they thought they’d spoken too harshly. I found that most Afghans believe in God and respect Jesus. Almost everyone already assumed I was a Christian, so it was really a matter of explaining that I’m not just a cultural Christian, but a Christ-follower. Afghans loved it that I knew my Book, prayed and tried to live a holy life. Many still wanted me to convert to Islam, but they respected my faith and practice. Mostly, people who were hostile to me hated my foreignness and my independence as a woman, not my faith. If anything, my faith helped me.

How did you go about learning the language? Did you study Dari before you went to Afghanistan or did you learn it in country?

I studied some Farsi before I want to Afghanistan. That’s the language of Iran. I also had some recordings in Dari that I practiced with, but mostly I learned the language from my Afghan neighbors and coworkers. I also had language tutors, made recordings and reviewed them in my room. I tried to commit a couple of hours a day, just to language learning and used every aspect of my life as the context. It was exhausting, but it paid off. I not only learned language, but I developed some wonderful friendships and I learned how to live there. I still miss speaking in Dari. It’s a such a beautiful, rich, poetic language.

I understand that you live in the United States currently. Do you want to return to Afghanistan ever—either as an aid worker or in any other capacity? Do you stay in touch with friends there?

I would love to return to Afghanistan! I miss my friends terribly. Email and the phone just aren’t enough. Still, I doubt I’ll go. I don’t want to do anything to put my Afghan and foreign friends in danger.

What do you think is the best way Christians who read your book can pray for or personally minister to the Muslims they know?

I think the first is in our own hearts. We need to see Muslims as God sees them; with His love and compassion. From that understanding, we can pray for God to reveal His love and truth to those we know personally and those we see or hear about. It’s God’s love that really changes people. When we’re able to see Muslims as precious individuals, we can to look for ways to express God’s love to them through our own lives. That could be as simple as a smile and a friendly hello or something deeper like a conversation and an invitation to tea. If we’re already in relationship with people, we can deepen our understanding of who they are. That comes through asking open-ending questions and genuinely listening as they share their lives with us. Along the way, we can be real about our own faith; who is God to us? How have we experienced Him? Why is He significant to us? When we invite others to be real with us and are real ourselves, heart-level conversations happen.

Oh friends, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Will you join me in praying for Afghanistan, for the people there to know the height and depth of the love of Christ? Let’s also pray for Kate McCord. Father, fill her with joy and peace, passion and purpose as she serves you exactly where she is right now. 

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Book Review, Farewell Four Waters

My husband grew up in a missionary family. His father was a medical doctor in Guatemala for 10 years of Patrick’s early life. When he was 15, they returned to the states.

Ever since we began dating, I’ve treasured the stories of his family’s experiences outside my little world. From their living conditions to the simple, satisfying food; from the rare but frightening stories of hostility to the warm recollections of friendships forged through the bond of mutual service, compassion and faith. Over the years, I began to detect a different tone when his mother relates the stories. Her voice holds longing, a hint of lost or distant identity.

Screenshot 2015-01-15 18.52.06Longing…that is the tenor of Kate McCord’s, Farewell Four Waters. In this sequel to, In the Land of Blue Burqas, McCord unwinds the painful process of saying goodbye to her Afghan life—in truth, leaving her Afghan self. Deftly, she details the circumstances that led to her final decision to return to America.

In 2008, Marie, the author’s representation of herself, was working to develop a literacy program for women during a uniquely tumultuous time. Afghanistan conflict, she explains in the book, is almost always regional, and for years her beloved city of Shektan was calm and safe. But suddenly, at first with no explanation, violence erupted. Three people were killed within a span of a few days, one a female aid worker—gunned down right out in the open, two others by police.

A quiet tension, a sort of underlying panic ensued. That’s difficult to understand from the North American cultural perspective of non-violent demonstrations that only occasionally devolve into street riots. Aid workers began a slow, steady exodus. Even Marie’s dear friend, roommate and architect of the literacy project, Carolyn, abandoned her post. Marie was left virtually alone.

But that’s what sets Marie’s story apart. Shored by her faith and willingly but warily dependent on the Afghan friends she’d come to love and trust, Marie refused to leave. She would stay until she had no other option.

Farewell Four Waters is a delicious story. The narrative moves slowly, mirroring the progress of Marie’s choices, her endurance, longing and letting go. While the first half of the book is not laden with excitement, it does take an inexplicable grip on the reader, causing them to feel that if they don’t finish the story something in their own lives will remain unfinished.

I highly recommend this book. In addition to the pure joy of exploring a distant world, the reader will walk away with greater knowledge of the Afghan culture, a splinter of understanding of what it’s like to bear the mark of Jesus in a hostile environment and will fertilize the spiritual fruit of long-suffering in their own life.

Welcome September!

Believe it or not, here we are again – on the precipice of a new month. Actually, we just slipped over the edge a few days ago and find ourselves screaming through the final days of summer.

Fall isn’t so much a season in its own right as a transition with a name. I love that murky line between steamy days and crispy nights. I love the lingering green and encroaching brown. I love the refreshing promise fall holds. I love darker evenings, shorter days and first frosts. But change can leave you wondering what you missed in the moments that will never replay.

Did you play hard enough, rest long enough, spend plenty of time in the sun?

Courtesy of: http://boisdejasmin.com/2009/10

Did you finish house projects, take a father-daughter camping trip, lose the weight?
Did you do that Bible study, read your stack of books, visit your long-distance relatives?

If you didn’t “do it all” this summer, don’t despair. I sure didn’t scratch the surface of the privileges of pain, the potential of words, or the pleasure of poetry. So I’m going to keep going straight through September! Peering inquisitively into my pain, harnessing the power of my words and sometimes reigning in my tongue have been great lessons for me. They are broad brushes that color nearly every aspect of human life, leaving me with boundless questions and  an entire cannon of Scripture to ply for answers.

In honor of fall’s stealthy approach, I will change a few tiny things this month – like the first leaves to turn before cascading to the ground. On Mondays we will continue to look at the Privilege of Pain. I have a whole new perspective to consider – a medical application.

We will still celebrate Wordy Wednesdays. Ponder with me tough words like addiction. Wonder what’s in a name. Try to share Jesus without words. 

Friday will offer a little variety. I’ve been devouring a wonderful book called “In the Land of Blue Burqas,” by Kate McCord. In fact, it has fueled much of my thoughts on pain and how we use our language. I am honored to review various books for Moody Publishers, so on one particular Friday, I will entice  you to read this book.

Not that my opinion is to be over valued, but I want to share with you my thoughts on a couple other ministries and resources of truth as well. Truth is the only vaccine against or treatment for the Predatory Lies of this fallen world. And doubtless, my journal will be peppered with poetry prayers in September. I hope you don’t mind if I share them.

So there you have it! Happy September!

Book Review: In the Land of Blue Burqas

Kate McCord left a flourishing career to begin a non-governmental organization in Afghanistan with the goal of helping Afghan women. In her book, In the Land of Blue Burqas, she uses her “boots on the ground” perspective to describe the countryside, homes, people, culture and emotions of a country few non-military Americans will ever see.

Quite literally, I could taste the dust swirling through porous homes. As I read, I felt the piercing cold and the tingle of sweat in the midst of the extreme seasons. I could feel the tension between McCord and her Afghan co-workers when the subject of faith inevitably surfaced.

In the Land of Blue Burqas, is a unique book, in that it goes beyond painting an almost tangible image of this mysterious country and its people. McCord shares how she learned to boldly share her faith in Jesus Christ without alienating Muslims who would as soon kill an infidel as entertain their witness.

A couple of McCord’s explanations of her faith to Afghan friends actually strengthened my own understanding of my Christian faith. My favorite was her depiction of the Trinity.

“God the Father is like the sun that sits in the midday sky. The sun is so strong that if we stare at it, we would be destroyed because it burns with such a great fire. If we did get to it, we would be destroyed because it burns with such a great fire. We cannot come near the sun in the midday sky. God the Son is the light of the world, just as your Holy Quran says. We need the light of the sun to live. Without it, no plants would grow….God Jesus is like the light that comes from the sun in the sky. And God the Holy Spirit is like the warmth that the sun provides. Without it, the earth would be covered with ice and we would die. The sun, the light it shines, and the warmth it gives are all one thing; they cannot be separated…The three are one, and yet they are different.”
(In the Land of Blue Burqas, pg. 242)

Kate McCord’s book deepened more than my understanding of the country of Afghanistan. It also increased my compassion for all who work desperately to appease a God they do not know and who die with no certainty of salvation. McCord calls Christians to consider how they approach differences between faiths. How do we act in love? express forgiveness? explain our relationship with a loving God?

Finally, McCord doesn’t leave her readers with more questions. Her book provides numerous examples of speaking the truth in love and being unashamed of the cross of Christ.